“Mom!” At the sound of my four-year-old’s voice, my eyes snapped open. “It’s your turn.” Turns out I had fallen asleep sitting up in the middle of our checker game, in the middle of the living room, in the middle of the day. With an internal promise to allow myself to take a nap once my son went down for his, we finished the checker game (with me struggling to keep my eyes open the whole way), I read him a few books, and then I tucked him in for his nap.
Then, rather than take the nap my almost 30-week pregnant body was craving, I started playing Candy Crush on my husband’s old iPhone, a phone with so many cracks in the face that you sometimes can’t get certain finger swipes to work. At first, I told myself I would play “just one game” before lying down for a nap. Thirty minutes later, I admitted to myself that I would keep playing until the game locked me out for the day and that I would not have time for a nap before we had to pick my older son up from school. Even as I was playing, a line from the book of Romans kept cycling through my brain: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want…”(Romans 7:15).
I have to admit that I am a bit perplexed by my seeming addiction to Candy Crush, as I have never been a “gamer” in any sense of the word. When my family got our first Nintendo when I was in middle school, I played a few games of Mario and then read a good book. When my girl friends took up Mario Cart in college, I played a few games and then chose to study. When my husband and sons took up Angry Birds, I do not think I even played a game but rather relished the time to do anything but that.
In an attempt to understand myself a bit better, I went to the book of Romans to look up what follows the verse about doing what we do not want to do. Here is what is says a few verses later: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:19-20). Certainly, it might be going a bit far to call an innocuous game like Candy Crush “evil” and to relegate my playing of it to the realm of sin. And yet as I find myself, phone in hand, playing this game when there are other things of a greater good to which I should be attending, I wonder if evil and sin need to be redefined in our time of (addictive) media that allows us to pass the time without truly find enjoyment in our leisure and to avoid parts of our lives (emotions, relationships, arduous tasks) that would be better dealt with now instead of in that ever-receding future of “when I beat the next level” or “finish the next season.”
And yet even as I contemplate kicking the habit for good, I do not want to be too hard on myself. If I have learned anything in my work this past year to heal from an eating disorder, it is that the behaviors that turn out to be maladaptive in the long-term often start as our well-meaning, albeit doomed, attempts to meet our very real needs. So while Candy Crush is now getting in the way of writing projects that are past deadlines and actually connecting with my husband (rather than parallel playing on our respective devices), at the beginning I wanted to be playing it. I was attracted to it for some reason. So what needs did this downloadable phenomenon meet in my life?
I feel more than a bit sheepish admitting this, but the main thing I get out of this game is a sense of accomplishment. I actually feel proud when I get past a level that has been giving me a hard time. Conversely, in my work as a part-time stay-at-home mom and part-time adjunct professor, I very rarely feel accomplished. Between folding laundry and cooking meals, between grading papers and replying to online discussion boards, there is always work to be done, relatively thankless work which feels mundane enough so as not to elicit any sort of pride on my behalf. So what this Candy Crush-inspired reflection is encouraging me to consider is how can I take more pride in my work. It might involve something as little as taking time to pat myself on the back when I come up with a creative solution to a recurring problem at home, like tonight when I outsmarted the nightly battle of the wills that is getting my sons up to their bedroom by challenging them to a race up the stairs, winner picks the books to read. It might also involve a little more soul searching to think about what aspects of my paid work actually contribute to a positive sense of self, such as writing and leading retreats, and how to make space in my schedule for these things. And it may just happen that as I seek out other ways to feel accomplished, the hold Candy Crush has on me will lessen and eventually fall be the wayside completely.